An Island family is taking the concept of shopping local to a new level, as Moroccan pestos and sauces created by Naomi Knight and her husband Touf will hit the shelves of the Mercer Island New Seasons when it opens Nov. 10.
Mercer Island residents Naomi and Touf started their sauce company, Seven Red Tagines, because they are passionate about spices and flavors, healthy and easy-to-prepare food and most importantly, sharing meals as a family. They were inspired by the flavors and spice markets of Morocco, where Touf grew up, and started selling their products in local farmers markets a few years ago.
The pair started in the tech world, but knew they always wanted to be in the food industry. In 2012, they completed the Get Your Recipe to Market course at Portland Community College, commuting from Mercer Island to learn about everything from food handling and distributing to packaging and marketing. The course culminated in a trade show with New Seasons buyers and a connection with their Local Finds program, where mentors help emerging entrepreneurs and provide specialized care and attention to help makers grow their businesses.
The Seven Red Tagines products — ranging from pesto to harissa hot sauce to olive tapenade — will be available when the Mercer Island store opens. The sauces are already in four New Seasons stores in Portland, and wider distribution is expected next year. The partnership with New Seasons was a case of the “stars aligning,” Naomi and Touf said, formed by shared passions for community and sharing great, healthy food.
Every culture has its pesto, they said; the traditional varietal originated in Italy, Argentina has chimichurri, and so on. Chermoula is the Moroccan version, and it’s unique because it doesn’t have nuts or cheese (the special ingredient is preserved lemon), and is gluten-free.
Touf, the chef of the family, said that he uses cooking to create something unique and tangible; it’s a creative escape from his day job in the software industry. Naomi says she prefers to create meals for her family that are quick and easy. They created the sauces to appeal to people on all ends of the spectrum: from connoisseurs to novice cooks.
“Cooking at home doesn’t have to take lots of time, ingredients, measurements, or instructions,” they write on their website. “Since our sauces are made with fresh, real herbs and spices, you don’t have to fuss with the details. Use what you have in the fridge or pantry already … With the seasoning taken care of, you are equipped to cook intuitively, and love what you make.”
Touf shares his unique recipes on the company’s website and Instagram pages. Seven Red Tagines is still starting out, and lacking funds for professional marketing, Naomi and Touf enlisted their teenage children to help with social media. They felt that growing slowly, directly interacting with customers at farmers markets and changing things based on the feedback of returning customers, was the way to go.
The name of the company is inspired by the colors, flavors and traditions of Moroccan mealtimes, where everyone in the family eats from one dish — a tagine — which is placed in the center of a small, low table.
“We love the symbol and symbolism of the tagine as it is recognized worldwide as the unique cooking vessel of Morocco and for those who have experienced the sharing of a meal in Morocco, the experience is unforgettable,” Naomi said. “No individual plates, no one sitting alone or separate from the group. A meal is the place and time when everything is left at the door and everyone is welcome always, no matter what.”
They want to spread the message that family meals are a critical and intimate experience.
“This is truly a symbol of what food is in Morocco, what it was, should be and what we are striving to bring back here with our sauces,” she said.
In addition, red is a lucky color and seven is a lucky number in many cultures. Red is the color of the earth and the clay used to create the tagine. Seven plays an important role in Moroccan cuisine; before a very formal dinner, one must serve seven intricate salads, Naomi said. There are also seven days of the week, which means seven meals to prepare and share, she said.
“It really has been fun starting this company with Touf and our kids,” Naomi said. “And we are just so excited to be launching into this next phase of growth with New Seasons … local to local, fresh to fresh.”
For more, see www.sevenredtagines.com.